Friday, June 28, 2019

Dying Far From Home: Pvt. William Nellis, Co. B, 29th Connecticut Infantry


Last Friday, I searched through City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Virginia, to locate the graves of a handful of men who are buried there. This past Tuesday I shared their stories with a few of the volunteers from work when we visited. I found these men while searching an online database of interments. I had to choose soldiers whose service records were available on Fold3.com to tell their histories. While browsing through the alphabetical lists, I came upon Pvt. William Nellis, Company B, 29th Connecticut Infantry. The 29th was one of the few African American regiments that kept their state designations instead of United States Colored Troops numbers.

I knew this little fact because at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum, one of the soldier comrades incorporated in the "Duty Called Me Here" exhibit was also in the 29th Connecticut; Sgt. Maj. Alexander Heritage Newton , who served in Company E.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find Nellis in the 1860 census, although he appears to have been born free in . . .  wait for it . . . Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His service records state that he was almost 22 years old when he enlisted in the 29th on December 3, 1863 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Apparently, Nellis worked as a farmer before enlisting. He is described as 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall, with a "black" complexion.

Another thing that Nellis's service records show is that he was always present for duty from the time he enlisted until October 27, 1864. That fateful day found Nellis and the 29th fighting outside of Richmond on the Darbytown Road. The 29th was part of  Col. Ulysses Doubleday's brigade in Gen. Joseph Hawley's division of the X Corps, Army of the James. Nellis, fighting as a skirmisher was struck in the elbow while battling near the Kell House. His wound was described as "severe." Taken to the X Corps base hospital near Jones' Landing, Nellis received treatment for his wound. His records do not say if his injury required amputation or not. Nellis remained there for over a month attempting to recover when he died on December 6, 1864.

An inventory of Nellis's personal effects are included in his service records. All that is claimed is one blouse, one pair of "trowsers," and $ .15. The same company muster roll card that relates Nellis's wounding also indicates that he was charged for: one knapsack, one haversack, and one canteen. Previous to that, back in March and April 1864 he was charged for one haversack. Included in Nellis's final papers is one showing these deductions along with "one half shelter tent," for a total of $5.55. One would think that a man who gave his life for his country would be cleared of these debts.

Nellis was first buried at Jones' Landing and then reinterred in gave #1700 at City Point National Cemetery. May he rest in peace for his service to the United States of America.



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